Applicants must be at least 18 years old.  Preference will be given to Maine residents with previous search and rescue experience and/or dog training experience.  Due to the recent increase in interest in our organization, acceptance as a trainee may be delayed for several months for qualified individuals. Application instructions.

Getting Involved
If you think you might like to get involved in search and rescue, we invite you to look over the information here and contact us if you have any questions. It's gratifying work, but it's also hard work and involves considerable time commitment. Here are a few questions.
1. Do you have the time to commit to working with a dog on a daily basis with obedience and several times a month on search and rescue training exercises? You will need lots of time and energy.

2. Are you willing to spend money on equipment and are you willing to travel all over the state of Maine? MESARD trainings take place every month, sometimes in remote locations. Searches may be anywhere in the state.

3. Are you willing to train and work in conditions that are extremely physically demanding and that may be uncomfortable? Are you willing to search in the woods on a cold, rainy night? Searches rarely occur in ideal conditions!

4. Are you able to respond with only a few minutes notice to a search anywhere in the state? MESARD dog teams are emergency responders who need to respond when the search happens, not days later when it is convenient for them to respond. You home and work life need to have flexibility. Lost and missing people depend on our response.


If you don't have a dog, but are thinking of getting one for search and rescue work, contact us for guidance before you get your dog. You will learn a lot about various breeds that will be useful in making a decision. There are several breeds and breed mixes that work well in search and rescue. You will be able to see them in action and talk with their owners.
If you have a dog already that you are thinking of using, is it a suitable dog for search and rescue work? Our standards contain a lot of information about requirements for both handlers and their dogs. Our Standards page will provide you with further information about our requirements.

We appreciate your interest in MESARD and hope that you will Contact us if we can help you with any further information.


Requirements for SAR Dog Candidates

It takes a better than average dog to do search and rescue work.  While more depends on the individual personality and physical structure of the dog than on its breed, there are certain requirements that cannot be compromised to produce an effective working team.  These are:

1.   The dog must be stable and confident in temperament, willing to approach and play with strangers.

2.   The dog must be environmentally stable, unafraid of loud sounds and new situations.

3.   The dog must be confident around, and, in general, not show aggression towards other dogs or animals.  SAR dogs work off lead around other SAR dogs and are transported in close quarters together.

4.   The dog must be able to physically work for a minimum of 8 hours at a time.  This work takes place in a woods environment and involves walking, running, jumping and climbing.  Working in commercial forests usually means climbing over slash piles of tree limbs and downed trees.  Other obstacles are thick brush, rocks and steep terrain.  This means that the dog must be the equivalent of an endurance runner, not a weight lifter.  For this reason, dogs over 90 pounds are generally not recommended for air scent SAR work.  While tracking dogs working on lead might be larger than 90 pounds, the smaller and more agile dogs still have more stamina.

5.   The dog must be able to be motivated to work for the handler finding human scent.  This is a vital element of the dog’s temperament.  Many dogs fit the physical requirements but don’t have the ability to be motivated to overcome distractions and the physical challenges of working in rough terrain for long periods of time.  Conversely, a large dog may make up for the decrease in agility and stamina by having great desire to work.  Preferably, the dog should show a strong desire to play with toys and retrieve and have strong food drive - the desire to take food or treats at any time in any place. 

6.   It takes a minimum of a year and more often two years to train a SAR dog and complete certification testing.  Most SAR dogs are retired from the harder search problems by the time they are 8 or 9 years old.  Therefore, it does not make sense to start training with a dog older than three years unless the dog has had previous training and, as a minimum, a good working relationship with their handler and basic obedience training.  The best age to start a SAR dog is as a puppy, with the caveat that the dog should have hip x-rays and be screened for orthopedic problems when it is old enough, usually about six months. 

Different dog breeds were developed for different purposes.  The best approach to buying a puppy or young dog for SAR work is to pick a breed that was originally bred to work cooperatively with their handler and then consult with or visit breeders that work their own stock in the areas the dogs were bred to work in.  Note that most breeds were bred to work, but not necessarily in cooperation with people.  The best breeds for off lead SAR work are the herding, sporting and working breeds.  Hounds are good for on- lead tracking work, but, in general, hunt too independently for work off lead.  Many of the pointing dog breeds have great energy and physical ability, but many individuals are independent and want to hunt game more than humans.  Pointing dogs have to be evaluated on an individual basis and raised to be SAR dogs rather than bird dogs to be effective.  Retrievers are hunting dogs but work cooperatively with their handlers and excel in SAR work. 

Simply buying a puppy or dog from one of the herding, sporting, or working dog groups does not insure success, because the vast majority of dog breeders today do not work their breeding stock, so they do not know what abilities the dogs may have, nor do they know how to pick good working candidates.  The best way to find a dog for SAR work is to visit or consult with people or breeders who participate in dog sports or work the dogs they are breeding from.  These dogs are not the dogs that win the AKC dog shows, because the dogs that win the shows are picked for their physical conformation, not for their working ability.  Working ability is lost within a generation or two if the breeder does not select for working ability. 

Even within a litter born of working parents, puppies will differ in ability and characteristics, just as children differ.  Knowing how to test or pick the right puppy or candidate is essential to success.  Besides screening for physical problems (the parents if a puppy), the candidate can be tested to the criteria above by taking the puppy or young dog to a new environment and seeing how it reacts.  If the candidate shows confidence, further testing can be done with distant gunshots or other loud noises and the approach of a stranger.  If the dog accepts these things in stride, the tester should throw a toy and see if the dog chases it, picks it up or otherwise shows intense interest in it.  Young puppies have poor eyesight and physical limitations, so having someone who is experienced in testing puppies of the breed you are testing is essential.  For young dogs being screened at shelter, if the dog shows intense interest in the toy, the tester should throw the toy into a place where the toy is hard to get to and out of sight, like into some thick bushes or behind furniture.  The dog that persistently tries to get to the toy in a new environment no matter what is going on probably has good temperament for SAR work.  Older dogs can also be taken near other dogs to see if they show inappropriate aggression.

Aggression towards other dogs is often a result of poor socialization and handling by the owner and is common in the herding breeds.  If this aggression is based in a basic insecurity on the dog’s part, this insecurity will probably show up in other forms, like sensitivity to new places, people or loud noises.  If the aggression is due to poor socialization and handling, it can often be controlled and moderated with training, so the presence of some dog aggression is not always an eliminating factor for a SAR dog candidate.

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Requirements for MESARD SAR Dog Handlers

MESARD’s primary mission is to provide trained dog and handler teams to assist in wilderness search and rescue in the state of Maine.  MESARD and MASAR (Maine Association for Search and Rescue) have stringent requirements for certification as ground searchers and SAR dog teams to ensure that their contribution to the search and rescue effort is credible and safe.  The Maine Warden Service requires that dog teams searching at SAR scenes be certified through MASAR or the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. 

To become a certified dog handler, the handler must first be certified as a ground searcher by MASAR.  In 2002, this certification consisted of the following requirements:

1.   Successful completion of a BASAR (Basic Search and Rescue) or equivalent course. This is a course on the basics of search and rescue which includes map and compass, land navigation, survival, search strategies and techniques, rescue techniques, etc. MASAR certified units offer it on an irregular basis, sometimes over a two-day weekend;

2.   Current certification in a basic first aid or higher course; 

3.      Current certification in CPR;

4.      Completion of a MASAR approved fitness test.  These tests are designed to measure the body’s ability to process oxygen at a given rate.  The test usually given by MESARD is to walk 2 miles with a 25-pound pack within 30 minutes;

5.   Completion of a FEMA ICS100 course, can be done easily on-line or taken as a class.

6.      Documentation of the completion of the above must be submitted to the MASAR Standards Committee;

7.      Basic Ground Searchers must re-certify every three years. Re-certification means documenting on-going training with a MASAR certified Unit, current first aid and CPR and completion of a fitness test in the last 6 months.

Other handler training required by MESARD and MASAR includes canine first aid, wilderness navigation and learning how to train and utilize a SAR dog in a wilderness environment.  Searching with a SAR dog in the wilderness is a strenuous activity for the handler and dog.  In remote areas, the handler and dog are often on their own and cannot always rely on a quick evacuation if they become tired or injured.  Physical fitness of the handler and dog are an important issue.  The longest of the four required certification tests is a search of 160 acres.  It has a time limit of 8 hours.  Applicants to MESARD should ask themselves if they and their dogs could walk in wooded terrain for 8 hours, as this is often required at real searches.

Training a SAR dog takes a considerable commitment in time, equipment and travel.  Handlers are expected to attend obedience or other classes outside of regular training if that is what is needed to attain the Canine Good Citizenship or other obedience degree required for certification.  Handlers will also need to attend monthly training sessions, work on their own with their dog at least every other day for a minimum of a half hour and attend informal training sessions with other handlers that are held in addition to the formal sessions.  MESARD handlers will not be “spoon fed” their training by the group.  They must work hard on their own to accomplish the training objectives.

It takes about 350 hours of dog training to get initial certification in a Wilderness SAR discipline. After that, the team must do maintenance training of a minimum of 16 hours a month. Doing 350 hours of training in the teamís first year means training approximately 7 hours a week, and that does not include travel time to train with others, since about 300 of those hours need to be with other people who hide or lay tracks for the dog team. This is a substantial commitment of time, so carefully consider how much time is needed to work a dog in search and rescue.

Training and working a dog in SAR requires great patience and understanding.  Dealing with fellow searchers and despondent family members in stressful circumstances requires even more patience and understanding.  SAR dog handlers have to be team players.  They have to be willing to work with others and take direction from search managers even if they don’t agree.  Keeping MESARD running as a Unit requires considerable work in fundraising, record keeping, etc.  People who apply to MESARD who are not team players, who do not listen and take advice well, or who will not make a significant contribution to the over all group and assist with group business, fund raising, etc., will not be elected to membership.  These are the most common reasons people are rejected as members.

Search call outs often come after dark and in the middle of the night.  MESARD likes to search at night when there is less interference with other searchers.  While no member is required to go to or stay at searches, the expectation is that handlers will be able to leave their jobs and families to respond to search call outs.

Most searches occur after dark and in poor weather because these are the conditions people become disoriented in.  Often the most urgent of searches are caused by the worst weather conditions.  Dogs work better than humans under conditions of low visibility.  The handler must purchase the clothing and equipment needed to operate in these conditions.

Searches occur all over Maine, in suburban and remote areas.  Long travel times by vehicle and on foot seem to be the norm for wilderness searches.  More often than not, SAR personnel respond only to arrive just as the victim is located, so they only turn back and go home.  While it may be disappointing to the SAR personnel not to be utilized, it is a reflection of the level of efficiency SAR operations have reached in Maine.

SAR dog handlers have to be emotionally resilient.  No team is perfect.  Sometimes teams fail certification tests, and occasionally they miss victims on real searches.  This can be very disturbing to handlers who have prepared long and hard in training.  Search and rescue means that it is likely you will find or see dead, severely injured, mentally or emotionally disturbed persons.  You will be expected to assist with the finding and recovery of these persons, and you may be alone and without other assistance for some time.  In the past MESARD members have experienced post-traumatic stress over some of the incidents they have encountered.  SAR is serious business.

MESARD has a tradition to uphold.  It has become recognized by the Maine Warden Service, other official agencies and by other SAR groups as an excellent and professional resource.  This is because of the quality of its members, many of who joined back when SAR with dogs was struggling to survive in Maine.  They have worked thousands of hours at the best and worst of searches in Maine.  They know what it takes to be a good SAR dog handler in Maine.  These members will insure that those who follow them in the group meet standards that insure MESARD remains a credible and professional group.

Application Form If you would like to join MESARD, please download an application form. The form will be in pdf format and will open in Adobe Reader. Print it, fill it out, and return it by U.S. Mail to Leslie Howe, 274 Epping Rd., Columbia, ME 04623.

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